Valley Lutheran's Appold Charges On

April 19, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Sarah Appold’s favorite pitch really depends on the day – and the various options she’s honed during a record-setting career at Saginaw Valley Lutheran.

Of course, there is the old stand-by fastball. The Chargers’ senior also can go change-up. She has a dangerous drop ball. But if she absolutely needs a swing and a miss, it’s got to be the rise.

“I just like the way I can kinda play games with it,” Appold said.

She’s won more than most seniors in Michigan this school year.

Appold is, without question, one of the most impressive all-around athletes in the state's class of 2012. A Second Half High 5 recipient this week, she made the Class C all-state second team in volleyball during the fall and then The Associated Press’ Class C all-state basketball team in the winter.

But softball has always been her number one – Appold holds multiple strikeout records at Valley Lutheran and has signed to pitch next for Saginaw Valley State.

“I played a lot of first base (growing up). But I liked being in control, playing all the time,” Appold said of pitching. “I like being able to be part of every single play. It’s just like playing a game every single time someone is up to bat.”

A decade ago, when second-grader Sarah decided she wanted to give pitching a try, her dad Randy – himself a fastpitch thrower – built her a pitching mound in the backyard.

It clearly got some use.

She set the Chargers’ single-season strikeout record of 272 as a sophomore – made more impressive by the fact she’s shared pitching duties all of her four varsity seasons and threw only 138 innings that season. She’s in the MHSAA record book three times for striking out at least 14 batters in one game, with her 15 in a 2010 contest tied for fifth on the list.

But the number that really pops is the school record she set last season for strikeouts per inning – 2.06.

This spring she’s faced 57 batters and struck out 36 in starting 2-0. She hasn’t given up an earned run and has allowed just five hits and walked four. Opponents are batting a mere .098 against her.

“Just being around her, and seeing her attitude, it’s hard to describe,” Valley Lutheran coach John Mueller said. “Because for all four years, watching her on the mound, she could strike somebody out or give up a hit, and you’d never see a change in her facial expression. She’ll get a couple of runners on base and it’s no big deal. She’s not so worried.”

He saw that confidence emerge especially last season. And her presence allows for her teammates – who together are ranked No. 5 in Division 3 – to remain confident even if they don’t make an offensive dent the first time through the line-up.

Appold also struck out 14 on Saturday as she and teammate Kelsey Schaus both threw no-hitters in a sweep of Flint Southwestern. Appold is joined by another four-year varsity player in Kara Englehardt among a group that Mueller said has shown exceptional work ethic across all sports over the last few years – and no doubt is working toward improving on last season’s finish in the Regional Final, a 7-5 loss to Sanford Meridian.

Appold also played four seasons of varsity volleyball and three on the basketball team. One more run would be a fitting end to an impressive softball career and incredible senior year as a whole.

“I guess I was a little shy coming in when I came in as a freshman. But I had juniors and seniors on the team who helped me settle down,” Appold said. “I definitely feel a lot older. And as you get older, there’s not a pressure, but a feeling of being almost done – and wanting to end the season winning the last game.”

Click for more on Appold and the rest of this week's High 5s.

PHOTOS: Saginaw Valley Lutheran Sarah Appold helped her team to last season's Division 3 Regional Final, playing both first base and pitching in the tournament.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)